Highland High of Pocatello has captured state titles multiple times in several sports.
Until Saturday, though, the Rams had never claimed a State A-1 volleyball championship.
Upstart Highland, not considered a state title challenger going into the tourney, had to go to the “if-necessary” match before holding off equally surprising Sandpoint 15-9, 12-5, 15-13 at Lake City High.
The final two matches took more than three hours to complete. And neither team appeared to have anything left when the final hit flew out of bounds.
Sandpoint (24-6) fell to Highland (31-8) in the winners bracket final earlier in the day, 15-7, 15-9.
The Bulldogs gamely worked their way through the losers bracket, eventually topping defending champ Bonneville 16-14, 7-15, 15-6 to earn the rematch with well-rested Highland. Bonneville finished third and Hillcrest took fourth.
The two Idaho Falls schools were predicted to reach the state final. Although Sandpoint and Highland weren’t the two most unlikely teams to play in the state championship match, the odds definitely weren’t in their favor.
Apparently, neither team paid attention to state previews.
Sandpoint forced the extra match with a 15-5, 15-13 victory that was every bit as impressive as Highland’s victory earlier over the Bulldogs.
Highland regained its composure, opening the final match with a relatively easy 15-9 decision.
But the Bulldogs put the first game behind them and rallied in the middle game. Tied at 11-all, Sandpoint got a deep ace from Jennifer Jeffres and another tough serve resulting in a point for a 13-11 advantage. Highland cut it to 13-12 before a kill by Megan Lippi got the point back at 14-12. On its second game-point opportunity, Sandpoint watched an overfeed by the Rams roll off the top of the net and out of bounds.
The sting of the loss in the third game, though, will be with the young Sandpoint team for a while. The Bulldogs opened a 9-4 lead, but Highland clawed back to take a 13-9 lead.
Sandpoint wouldn’t fold, eventually tying Highland at 13.
But the Bulldogs couldn’t get the 14th point - which had been a critical point throughout the tournament.
Highland prevailed moments later when Sandpoint hit back-to-back balls out of bounds.
It shouldn’t be the last time Sandpoint will be in the state final. The Bulldogs’ string of 19 straight state appearances was snapped last year.
Sandpoint, state finalists five of the last six years (and state champs in 1994 and ‘95), could be starting a new string of accomplishments. The Bulldogs graduate two role players and return their starting lineup intact, and will promote a few players off a 20-0 junior varsity team.
The Bulldogs started two freshmen, two sophomores and two juniors most of the season.
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